THE custodians of a national park look set to consider ramping up efforts to prevent the destruction of its cultural heritage after becoming overwhelmed by unauthorised works to nationally important buildings.

A meeting of the North York Moors National Park Authority’s planning committee heard its officers could not keep up with a wave of what are criminal offences being committed against listed buildings and members call for tough action to stop historic properties being ruined.

The call came as members agreed works to reinstate, as best it could be, a grade II listed 18th century farmhouse on the north-west boundary of the national park at Easby, which had suffered “substantial harm” due to unauthorised works.

Chris France, the authority’s director of planning, said a number of the building’s features that saw it given listed status, such as sliding sash windows, had been removed from the property.

The building’s owner, Graham Yewdall, apologised to the park authority for undertaking the works without permission, but said the house had been left uninhabitable after the previous occupier had died in an accident on the farm.

He said: “We were told by the land agent for the owner that it was just a straightforward repair and refurbishment. Then we had a knock at the door to say the house was listed.”

Member Alison Fisher said the authority needed to examine how it monitored and enforced planning rules over listed buildings very closely.

She said: “It is very disappointing and very uncomfortable for the national park that we find ourselves in this position. Substantial harm has been caused to this building and legislation clearly says damage to a listed building is an offence. How you could look at that building and not think it was of historic interest and could be treated in the way it has been treated is absolutely appalling. At the moment it is an indictment to heritage matters to the national park, and that’s very sad.”

Mr France said the Easby property was just one of at least a dozen such offences the authority was dealing with. He said the park authority had one full-time historic buildings officer and the equivalent of 1.8 full-time enforcement officers, and they “cannot deal with everything”.

Mr France said: “We are really struggling to keep up with how people look after or don’t look after listed buildings. We are writing a leaflet that will go out to every resident of listed building in the national park. Solicitors and estate agents don’t seem to advise new owners what listing actually means, so we are going to be more pro-active about that and make people aware.” He said it was apparent some members wanted the authority “to be a bit more pro-active about wielding our prosecution powers”.